FIVE-PLACE GRID PENALTY: Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel sits in the pits after the qualifying session of the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit. The German will start in seventh place after Ferrari switched his car's gearbox. Image: AFP / Yuri Kadobnov
Sochi - Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel insists the 2016 title race is not already over.
Many think Mercdes driver Nico Rosberg, who could extend his extraordinary winning streak from six to seven straight races in Russia, is now pulling into an unassailable position at the top of the drivers' world championship.
It comes amid an almost equally extraordinary run of bad luck for Rosberg's Mercedes teammate, the reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, who starts just tenth at Sochi after an identical engine problem to the one he suffered two weeks ago at the Chinese GP.
Hamilton felt 'helpless'
Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda said on Saturday (April 30): "The same problem twice must not happen, I need to talk to Andy," he added, referring to Mercedes engine chief Andy Cowell.
Increasingly, Briton Hamilton's excellent mood so far in 2016 is being eroded, confiding to British reporters late on Saturday that he feels "helpless".
One theory is that he is doing something fundamentally different to Rosberg with his in-cockpit settings on out-laps.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport: "We have to consider everything and not rule anything out."
Read: Engine curse strikes Hamilton again
It means Hamilton is two engines down before four full race weekends are complete. Hamilton said: "I have only three engines left so I need to expect that eventually I will get a penalty (for using a sixth engine in 2016), the big goal is getting further away."
On German television RTL, former F1 driver Timo Glock said Hamilton's run of bad luck is "inexplicable", even though "every driver has experienced periods where nothing works and on the other hand when everything comes together".
But at least Hamilton has an identical car to Rosberg for the remaining 18 races this season.
Ferrari not out of the running
Ferrari's Vettel, on the other hand, was the best part of a second in pace behind Rosberg in qualifying, while a gearbox change means he takes a grid drop for Sunday.
On the reliability problems, Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene has admitted the Maranello team has been "pushing like crazy" to catch Mercedes.
Vettel told Italy's Sky in Russia: "We are risking a lot, maybe too much, and that's my fault."
Vettel, however, told the same broadcaster that he is sure Ferrari is not out of the running yet.
Read: Vettel takes five-place grid penalty
The German said: "We have not won (races) yet, but we will. We will fight for the championship, I'm sure.
"I don't think anyone would say that, after only three races, we are out of it."
Glock weighed in on the championship by saying: "Mercedes is still clearly ahead, even though the long run done by Ferrari on Friday looked very good.
"What we can be sure of is that Lewis and Sebastian will be fighting to get back to the front, which will be good to watch.